If I were to pick a favorite childhood candy, it would be Snickers. When I would go trick-or-treating, I would fill a plastic pumpkin pail to the brim with various candies. Which I would then hide from my brothers in the bottom of my underwear drawer for months.
Being the type of kid that passed the marshmallow test with flying colors, I always saved the best loot for last. Smarties were everyday candy. You didn’t wait to savor those. Usually by mid-January, my candy/underwear drawer would be mostly Snickers bars. Yes, I was a candy hoarder.
Flip a Snickers over and look at the label. Unlike Smarties, which are just circular sugar chunks, Snickers have some substance to them. There are actual ingredients in there.
To grossly oversimplify things, what you’re feeding your dog is basically a Snickers bar.
I’ve been thinking about how I can keep my dog Xena as healthy as possible and maximize her enjoyment of life. Without spending all of the money.
It’s trickier than it sounds. I’ve tested over 10 different dog foods over the course of a year. I’ve spent hours trying to make sense out of dog food labels (note: this is a shortcut to madness). And studying what a good dog food even looks like from a nutritional perspective.
I’ve even considered the ancestral progression of wolves to dogs. Where they differ. How they are similar. And why your dog is fat. You can read more about that in one of my other articles.
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Any product, site, or service I recommend is out of my belief that it could improve your life. I use everything myself first. If (and only if) it passes my excessively high standards, I’ll recommend it to you.
The lowdown on macronutrients
Let’s talk macronutrients. A macronutrient is simply a way to break down food into the types of energy it contains. The three biggest macronutrients are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
If I were to describe each of the big 3 macronutrients at a high level it would be as follows. Carbohydrates are pure energy that are easily be stored as fat if not used (except for dietary fiber). Proteins and fats are like tiny Lego bricks that are used to build most of your dog’s cells, but can also be converted to energy if required.
(Biochemists, please don’t cringe. Yes, I am grossly oversimplifying complex topics like gluconeogenesis, the Krebs cycle, fatty acid metabolism, and amino acids. And I’m ignoring micronutrients completely in my analysis.)
The macronutrient breakdown of a given food is what percentages it contains of each.
- Table sugar – 100% carbohydrates
- Bacon grease – 100% fat
- Egg – 60% fat, 35% protein, 5% carbohydrates
What your dog should be eating
Your Dog is basically a wolf that lives in your house. In fact, both dogs and wolves are members of the same species – Canis Lupus – and both could hook up and make puppies together. Yes, even your Chihuahua could get it on with a wolf to create some terrifying offspring. Try to not picture that.
There are some obvious differences. A primary one is that dogs can digest complex carbohydrates like grains. Wolves can’t. But because dogs can eat massive quantities of carbohydrates doesn’t mean that they should. In fact, the bible of dog nutrition, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, produced by the NRCNA, reiterates that dogs don’t need carbs at all, if they are getting their required vitamins and minerals from other sources.
Your dog will die without protein and fat in their diet. But your dog could go their entire life without eating any carbohydrates.
Comparing macronutrients of various diets
I put together an infographic that shows the differences in macronutrients for comparison:
The first thing to note is that your average dry dog food looks a lot like a Snickers bar. If the Snickers had a few more peanuts in it, they’d be identical in terms of macronutrients.
Wonder why your dog is fat? You’d be fat too if you ate Snickers for every meal.
Wolves don’t eat carbs at all. Very rarely an easily digestible berry or two. Only 1% of the wolf diet in the wild is carbohydrates. Most of it is protein and fat in around a 50/50 split.
Dogs, given the choice to sniff out and eat the foods they prefer follow a similar diet to a wolf. In a comprehensive university study, dogs end up with a 60:30 split of fat and protein, with only 7% carbohydrates. Much more like a wolf diet than your average dog food.
Finally, I compared this to what I consider to be the optimal dry dog food on the market today – Orijen Regional Red. It’s the same food I feed Xena. I have no relationship with Orijen, nor do I make any money from advertising on this site. I believe they make a fantastic product. I pay regular price for it at my local pet store like everybody else.
Unfortunately, even the best kibbles still have more carbohydrates than a dog would prefer to eat. And not as much fat as they would like either. They are more like a Snickers bar than the preferred dog or wolf diet.
My view is that your dog can’t perform at their best unless you reduce their carbohydrate intake and replace it with high quality fats and proteins.
It may even help keep your dog at an optimal weight and increase their energy. My opinion from my extensive research and my personal observations with Xena is that it will. But I’m not a veterinarian so I can’t make definitive statements for every dog.
What you can do about it
Most high-quality dog food already has sufficient protein for your dog. You don’t need to add more. If you want to optimize your dog’s carbohydrate levels, I’d recommend adding some fat.
This is an easy change for you to make. Chances are your dog loves fat. And fats can be easily drizzled on top of your existing dog food for an extra-savory meal. A healthy fat booster will reduce the overall carbohydrate load of your dog’s food.
Good Fat Boosters
You can see in the chart that adding a fat booster to a high-carbohydrate dog food decreases the carbohydrate percentage and increases the fat percentage significantly. Much more than adding a fat booster to an already high-fat dog food would.
Don’t go overboard with added fat. Start off slow so your dog’s digestive tract can adjust. I keep Xena’s added fats to be no more than 15% of her total calories.
Xena, an 85lb Rottweiler, receives 250 calories per day, or roughly two tablespoons of oils or bacon grease. She gets one tablespoon on her food at both breakfast and dinner.
Make sure you are subtracting an equivalent amount of food to compensate so you aren’t overfeeding your dog.
Xena’s food is 449 calories per cup. I’m giving her 250 extra calories of fat. The math is:
- 250 fat calories / 449 calories per cup of food = 0.55 cups food less per day
Since she gets fed twice a day, I just subtract a quarter cup of dry food for each meal when I add a tablespoon of fat. Easy!
My favorite fat topper for Xena is MCT oil. MCT oil (specifically, a capric and capryllic acid MCT blend) is distilled from pure coconut oil. Unlike traditional fats, MCT oil gets converted immediately into energy and can have additional fat-burning effects. Here’s a great guide on why coconut (and MCT) oils are great for dogs.
Side note – I order the Viva Naturals brand via the Amazon Subscribe and Save program for a 15% discount, which brings my cost down to around $16 per liter. For a coconut-derived MCT formulation that is 100% capric (C10) and capryllic (C8) acid (e.g. the good stuff), that’s a fantastic price. Xena consumes 1 bottle per month.
Xena’s personal favorite fat topper is bacon grease. No surprises there. Whenever I make bacon, I save the drippings in a container and store in the fridge for special occasions. It helps to warm it up slightly first before pouring it on food. Not too hot or you risk burning your dog’s mouth.
Try a fat booster for 60 days. Weigh your dog before and after. See if your pet’s energy levels have increased. See if they have a glossier coat. I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
If your dog is significantly overweight, consider an extremely low-carbohydrate food like Orijen Regional Red.
Don’t suffer from sticker shock
High-fat dog foods look more expensive initially. Because they are so much denser, your dog doesn’t eat nearly as much. Critter Cabana has put together a cost comparison matrix of various dog foods.
The cheapest of the cheap dog foods, Walmart’s Ol’ Roy ($20 per 50lb bag) is $0.76 per day to feed a 50lb dog. Orijen Adult is $1.13 per day. Orijen Regional Red is around $2.00 per day.
The difference between the cheapest dog food you can buy and one of the best dry kibbles available is $1.25 per day for a 50lb dog. I’m convinced it will save me at least that amount over Xena’s lifetime in the reduction of vet bills alone.
Side note – I buy Orijen Regional Red for $94 per 25lb bag ($85 after my local pet store’s loyalty discounts). Don’t overpay online.
Try boosting your dog’s food with a healthy fat today. And please don’t feed your dog Snickers.
Have any personal experiences you would like to share about adding high quality fats to your dog’s diet? Share them in the comments below.